Gary Payton: Draymond, not Kawhi, should get defensive award

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As one of best defensive players of his generation, Gary Payton knows what it takes to thrive on that end of the floor.

In one of the tightest races for defensive player of the year in quite some time, the nine-time All-Star told The Associated Press that he is leaning toward Golden State's Draymond Green ever so slightly over San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard.

''I would rather both of them win. But I think Draymond has done a great job of helping Golden State endure the changes that they've had,'' said Payton, who does not have an official vote. ''He's been stepping up and making a lot of big plays. Not that Kawhi hasn't been doing that, but I think Draymond really deserves to win defensive player of the year.''

The winner will not be announced until the NBA's first awards show after the Finals. But Green, Leonard and Utah's Rudy Gobert are the three main candidates. Green and Leonard will both be in action during the playoffs on Saturday, with the Warriors trying to take a 3-0 lead over the Portland Trail Blazers and Leonard's Spurs hoping to bounce back from a Game 3 loss in Memphis on Thursday night.

Payton grew up in Oakland, the city that Green calls home with the Warriors. The outspoken stars also host an internet trash talking show, but Payton said he would never play favorites when making his decision.

He lauded Leonard, the two-time defending winner.

''He guards all the best players,'' Payton said. ''He can hawk the ball. He's so long, that he can steal the ball from you one-on-one up top and makes the player he's defending get rid of the ball.''

But he said Green gets the slight edge because his performance has also helped Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson become better defenders.

''He changed the Golden State tone this year,'' Payton said. ''He's a bigger presence on his team and he deserves it.''

Here's a look at Saturday's games:


Spurs at Grizzlies, San Antonio leads 2-1. Game 4, 8 p.m., ESPN.

NEED TO KNOW: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich used an ugly start to the third quarter of Game 3 as a teachable moment, pulling his starters when they gave up the first five points of the second half. Asked if Popovich was sending a message saying he was disappointed after the loss, Danny Green said he can only sometimes know what the coach is thinking. ''He's good at what he does, and he gets the best out of us,'' Green said. ''It might be. I don't know.''

KEEP AN EYE ON: Turnovers. The Spurs have turned it over 24 times since halftime of Game 2, including 12 in losing Game 3. Memphis turned those mistakes into 13 points while taking very good care of the ball. The Grizzlies had only two of their five turnovers through the first three quarters.

INJURY UPDATE: Grizzlies defensive star Tony Allen was out of his walking boot on Friday, but still remains out indefinitely with a strained right calf.

PRESSURE IS ON: The Grizzlies. Even after a convincing win in Game 3 to get back in the series, losing at home in Game 4 would put them right on the brink of elimination going back to San Antonio. Win, and the pressure shifts squarely to the No. 2 seed in the West.


Raptors at Bucks, Milwaukee leads 2-1. Game 4, 3 p.m., TNT.

NEED TO KNOW: The young Bucks went into the series playing the ''chip on shoulder'' card against the more experienced Raptors. They've flipped the script after dismantling Toronto in Game 3. The performance should feed another eager crowd in Game 4. Now the Raptors look like the underdogs in the series.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Bucks movement away from ball. Milwaukee had 29 assists on 39 field goals, in part due to the extra defensive attention drawn by a href(equals)''-Giannis-picking-up-the-point-from-NBA-great-Kidd'Giannis Antetokounmpo/a. That opened up more room to move the ball to open shooters on the perimeter and cutters going to the basket. Khris Middleton's hot start from the field also helped spread the floor.

INJURY UPDATE: None of note.

PRESSURE IS ON: DeMar DeRozan. The Raptors star was held to eight points and missed all eight shots from the field in Game 3. The chances of that happening again seem slim, but DeRozan and backcourt mate Kyle Lowry have to produce to avoid a 3-1 hole heading back to Toronto.


Wizards at Hawks, Washington leads 2-0. Game 3, 5:30 p.m., TNT.

NEED TO KNOW: The bad blood between these two teams has been evident from the start. John Wall has made no secret that he wasn't happy with Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder's crowing after the Hawks eliminated the Wizards two years ago, and Wall has excelled so far. He has averaged 32 points and 11.5 assists and snarled at Schroder after a breakaway dunk . Schroder likes to yap as much as the next guy, but Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer wants his mercurial point guard to stay away from the trash talk.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Turnovers. Atlanta is throwing away too many possessions by being sloppy with the ball. The Hawks gave up the ball 19 times in Game 1, followed by 18 turnovers in Game 2. They can't surrender that many possessions if they're going to have any chance of turning this series around.

INJURY UPDATE: Wizards center Ian Mahinmi is out for at least the next two games with a strained left calf.

PRESSURE IS ON: Dwight Howard. The Hawks center has taken only 11 shots in two games and is averaging 6.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 24.5 minutes, a far cry from his career postseason averages of 19.1 points, 14.1 rebounds and 37.7 rebounds entering these playoffs. He was clearly frustrated at being stuck on the bench for much of the fourth quarter in Game 2.


Warriors at Trail Blazers. Golden State leads 2-0. Game 3, 10:30 p.m., ESPN.

NEED TO KNOW: Kevin Durant's a href(equals)''status for the game/a is questionable, even though he posted a video to his YouTube channel on Thursday night saying he's hopeful he can play. Steve Kerr added intrigue to the situation when suggested that being up 2-0 ''could'' impact his decision to play Durant. ''If he's ready to play, he's going to play,'' Kerr said. ''But if there's any question, then we won't play him. We've got to get him healthy. As for Portland, big man a href(equals)''doubtful'-for-Game-3'Jusuf Nukic/a was upgraded to ''doubtful'' for Game 3, which means he's still unlikely to play.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Warriors reserve JaVale McGee. He picked up the slack with Durant and Shaun Livingston out, coming off the bench to score 15 points in Game 2. Look for the Warriors to turn to the big man again, especially with Nurkic out and the Blazers going small.

INJURY UPDATE: In addition to Durant, Matt Barnes (right ankle/foot sprain), and Shaun Livingston (right index finger sprain) are questionable for the Warriors.

PRESSURE IS ON: The Blazers as a group to pull out at least a face-saving victory at home. They're still the underdogs by far, but will the Rip City faithful at Moda Center help close the series gap? ''It's not like we're down 3-0,'' Damian Lillard said Friday. ''We got an opportunity to take care of our home floor and tomorrow will be the start.''


AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker in Memphis, Genaro Armas in Milwaukee, Janie McCauley in Oakland, Anne M. Peterson in Portland, Howard Fendrich in Washington and Paul Newberry in Atlanta contributed to this report.


This story has been corrected to show that the Wizards are playing at the Hawks.